Bowie State University held its first in-person commencement since the COVID-19 pandemic, on May 21 at Bulldog Football Stadium. (Courtesy Photo)

By Deborah Bailey
Special to the AFRO

Bowie State University’s Spring 2021 graduating class basked in the socially-distanced sunshine Saturday as the campus celebrated its first in-person graduation ceremony since Covid-19 restrictions limited mass gatherings across the state of Maryland.

More than 700 Bowie State University (BSU) graduates donned caps and gowns outdoors at the campus’ Bulldog Football Stadium, complete with socially distanced seating to participate in the pomp and circumstances of a traditional college graduation ceremony.

“Graduating in person from Bowie State University provided a healing that I didn’t know I needed,” said Jenene Lee, graduate of BSU’s Masters in Public Administration Program.

Governor Hogan lifted COVID-19 restrictions for outdoor gatherings, effective May 15. With just days left before Bowie State University’s graduation ceremony on May 21, staff got to work ensuring student participants and a few select guests, such as BSU’s first Medal of Excellence recipient, Major Riddick, Jr. could access the stadium.  

Hundreds of family and friends of the graduates, such as Jenene’s mother, Deborah Nix, were encouraged not to come to the campus, but to watch the ceremony on live-stream Friday morning. Nix gathered with family, friends and neighbors to see her daughter’s live-stream moment.

“It was a little surreal,” said Nix. “But then, when Jenene walked across that stage, just to see her there live and in person was more than I imagined. I stood up when they called her name. It was hard to contain myself.”

Voting rights champion and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Stacey Abrams did not appear in-person, but encouraged the graduates via live-stream to celebrate their accomplishments while remaining connected to communities that continue to need support and uplifting.

”As graduates today, you join the ranks of the privileged.  It is imperative that we return to the communities that others forget and use our training and our imagination to serve others who have been left behind,” Abrams said.

“Take these degrees you are accruing and put them to work for those in need. Each day that you fail to serve your community, you should feel the burden of that silence,” Abrams reminded the graduates.

“Look at us, we are here today in Bulldog Stadium,” Bowie State President Dr. Aminta Breaux said as she took off her mask to address the graduates.

“To say I am proud of you would be an understatement. Everyone at Bowie State University celebrates you today for your achievements and your persistence. You have remained ‘Bowie Bold,’” Breaux continued.

Breaux also reminded the graduates that in addition to living through the historic COVID-19 pandemic, they were also witnesses to HBCU history. “You are witnesses to history,” Breaux said, mentioning the historic $577 million Maryland HBCU settlement and the unprecedented gift to the campus of $25 million by philanthropist MacKenzie Scott.

The ceremony culminated with all 723 Bowie State Graduates experiencing the joy of hearing their names called out in person and walking across the stage to receive their degrees.

After all was said and done, for new Bachelor of Science graduate, Areana Garcia, it all comes down to gratitude for family and friends who took the journey with her.

“I’m thankful for my mom and dad and all my family and friends,” Garcia smiled.